Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Justification: All grace, all the way

As we contemplate a transition to Roman Catholicism, there's a lot to think about, and some of the differences are pretty intimidating.

But the doctrine of justification doesn't bother us at all.

All Christians believe that we're not saved by our own merits, but by the meritorious work of Christ. (Catholics affirm this in every mass!)

It's all grace. All of it.

Moreover, all Christians believe that the God's saving grace inexorably draws us into ever increasing conformity with Christ.

Salvation is a free gift, not a thing earned. And true Christians are characterized by their active fruitful love. It's impossible to take the Bible seriously without affirming both of those things, but there are a number of different ways of talking about it.

Because of Jesus, God forgives our sins and makes us holy. When we talk about salvation, do we mean just the forgiveness part, or do we mean the holy-making part as well? Is sanctification part of justification, or something separate that comes afterward?

It all depends on how you define your terms.

Words matter. But I'm pretty sure that our salvation doesn't depend upon our deft definitions and delineations.

We're saved by grace, and we can't earn God's favor by our cognitive merits. Whatever the words "justification" and "sanctification" ought to mean, it's safe to say that God regularly gives both of these gifts of grace to people who define them imperfectly.

Which is actually one reason that I was quite content to remain Protestant long after I became convinced that the Catholic way of talking about salvation is more helpful.

Careful Catholics and careful Protestants agree that the process of growing into love (sanctification) is a gift of grace. It's not something you can bootstrap yourself into. Trying harder doesn't work. You have to wait upon the hope of righteousness.

But even though we all agree that it's all gift, it's easy for a protestant to slip into the habit of thinking that we're sanctified by our own efforts.

I'm sure that Catholics are not immune to this pitfall, and I know that not all Protestants fall into this trap.

But even though I've never met a protestant who seriously thought that we can sanctify ourselves by our own efforts, that's the logical implication whenever the Catholic view is characterized as "earning your salvation."

Thinking of sanctification as a part of justification has nothing to do with earning, unless sanctification is something we do for ourselves.

But it's not. It's all gift. It's all grace.

Day by day, I'm struggling to remember that God alone can rescue me from my sin. I need all the help I can get, and it really helps to think of my journey into love in salvific terms.

I don't see this as something to break fellowship over. But it does seem like a good reason why maybe we don't really need to go out of our way to avoid fellowship with the Christians in our neighborhood.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Looking Rome-ward

Last night, we sat down with the elders at our church, and explained why we're seriously looking into Catholicism. Not all roads lead to Rome, but right now, it sure looks like ours does.

We've been uneasy protestants for a long time, but for a long time, we've been committed to making it work. These are our roots, and one should never break with tradition lightly. Besides, the grass is always greener on the other side, and we were never quite ready to trade the familiar problems of Protestantism for the unknown troubles of the Catholic church.

There came a point, though, where it stopped mattering where the grass was greenest--we just needed some grass that we could get actually to.

On time.

Without completely exhausting ourselves.

If you've ever tried to groom, feed, and transport six high-energy kids anywhere, you probably know what I mean. Getting everyone to church is a superhuman feat, and for a while, we just stopped being superheroes.

But we could get to the big Catholic church down the road. Not usually all at once, mind you, and only sometimes at the time(s) we intended. But there were enough masses that we could miss church twice, and still end up making it on time.

And then we would find ourselves at home an hour later, strengthened and refreshed, sure of God's presence, and ready to face the rest of the day.

 Nathan says that when you're in the mass, it feels like it's forever, but then when you step outside, almost no time has passed. That's exactly what it feels like, and if the Catholics are right about transubstantiation, then I think it must be so. The eucharist is a temporal version of the miracle of the loaves, where time itself is divided and multiplied, broken and gathered, as we all meet together across the centuries in the eternal moment of the cross.

Stretched thin, exhausted, and overwhelmed, this is what I'm hungry for.

Friday, December 19, 2014

knock, shine,
breathe and mend,
although my fierce heart
cries out to be broken, battered.
On this you will not accomadate me, as tender
as you are. You are unyeilding
in your gradual
kindness. Come

Thursday, December 18, 2014

sits under
the bridge with Jose
and Maria, waiting for Juan
and Pedro. Sometimes he holds a sign. It's hard to say
exactly what he needs, and all
I know is whose
name it is
in which

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Christians MUST affirm celibate gays

World magazine recently published an article about Julie Rodgers, a new counselor at Wheaton college.

Rodgers is open about her gay orientation, as well as her commitment to chastity. Combined with her other qualifications, this makes her especially well suited to help Christian students navigate their experiences of same-sex attraction. As we all strive to become more like Jesus, it's incredibly valuable to spend time with mature believers who can show us what that looks like in various different circumstances. I'm glad that Wheaton is committed to providing gay students with a vision of holiness and human flourishing.

This is oddly controversial, though.

The World article cites the concerns of a former lesbian, now in a heterosexual marriage: if we affirm the work of God in the lives of celibate gays, aren't we denying his power to change people?


Holy matrimony is holy. Holy singleness is holy.

If we're going to get into a rumpus over who's holier than whom, St. Paul says that singles are better suited for Christian service. But he also warns us not to play that kind of game.

We are many members of one body: marriage itself teaches us this, being built upon the generative power of unity and difference. The mystery of marriage confirms the teachings of Jesus and Paul. It is good that some people marry, and some people don't.

Just as the human race cannot survive unless some people are male and some people are female, I'm firmly coninced that we can't have healthy churches and communities unless some people are married and some people are single.

God is in the business of transforming sinners and making us holy. For some of us, marriage is part of this process. For others, it isn't. But all of us are called to love and value brothers and sisters who have different callings.

Scripture is unambiguously clear on this point. Holy celibacy is holy. And as Christians, we aren't permitted to take what God has declared to be holy, and call it dirty.

But there's another concern. If we affirm that celibate gays have a valuable role in the church, then doesn't that open us up to the idea that God didn't necessarily make everyone male or female, but might have also made some people in between?


No, it doesn't.

And if did, it wouldn't matter. People are more important than ideas, even when those ideas are very important ones.

This doesn't mean that we can't ask people to do hard things. But it does mean that when people faithfully do those hard things, we can't turn around and reject them so as to avoid confusing people. That issue was settled long ago, when Paul told Peter that he had to eat with the gentile Christians, no matter how bad that looked to some of the Jews. To do otherwise is to reject the work of Christ.

As it happens, Wheaton's decision to hire Julie Rodgers has little do with whether or not God made people who are neither male nor female.

Gayness is not the same thing as being neither male nor female, and affirming
people like Wesley Hill and Julie Rodgers doesn't imply anything at all about whether or not God has made people who don't fit these categories.

 But at any rate, I fail to see the earth-shattering implications of God's sovereign
choice to make people like that.

Reproduction is an important part of who we are as humans. It's how we all got here, and it's predicated upon the male/female duality.

But not all of us physically reproduce.

Not everyone is physically capable of reproduction, and not everyone is born with a standard reproductive system with a clearly identifiable sex. Some have even made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom.

This is okay, and more than okay. This is part of God's sovereign plan to make us into one body with many members.

Don't reject the work of Christ.

Monday, December 15, 2014

fill up
the empty:
a costly comfort.
Dynamite sends smoke heavenward.
Mountains must be moved
to make way
for this

Friday, December 12, 2014

(eight of them
in the optical)
the idly waiting customers
try on frame after frame, re-envisioning their sight.
One by one, each name will be called,
lenses cut to fit
the chosen
frame for

Thursday, December 11, 2014

of God, for
all those upon whom
my weary eyelids have fallen.
May your groanings reach
through my dreams,